MFL - A darker vocabulary

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
The language of cruelty helps pupils to explore painful ideas

When we learn a foreign language, we often deal with nice things such as buying ice cream and listing our favourite animals. But bullying is a topic that allows pupils to talk and write about darker things - and every pupil has opinions about it. Wearing a mask or adopting an "alter ego" can make it easier to tell the truth. Similarly, exploring this topic in a foreign language allows pupils to discuss painful things from a safe distance.

Vocabulary is a good starting point. The term "bully" covers so many diverse and subtle forms of cruelty that it can seem imprecise. Discussing the different words for bullying in foreign languages throws up fascinating questions about the subject. It also reminds those being bullied that they not alone. From matonaje in Spain to ijime in Japan, bullying is worldwide.

Give these German words to your class and ask them to come up with an example of each in a role play: die Beleidigung (insult), die Bedrohung (threat) and die Belastigung (harassment). Underpinning all this is die Ausgrenzung (exclusion). The class could then learn the verb forms of these words, for example beleidigen (to insult).

Feelings could be explored next. Education blogs and anti-bullying policies are a rich source of vocabulary. Pupils could search these online to find examples like this catalogue of emotions in Spanish: "... sentimientos como frustracion, rabia, verguenza, impotencia, retraimiento e, incluso, venganza" (... feelings like frustration, anger, shame, helplessness, withdrawal and even revenge).

A dash of humour is refreshing in this serious subject, and pupils might find some funny misconceptions about the origin of the term "bully", such as this one from a Spanish blog: "Bullying is an Anglo-Saxon term meaning bullfighting and has been translated into Spanish in various ways."

What can you do if you are bullied? Ask pupils to create a poster or leaflet about this in the target language. This will help them to practise the imperative and negative commands: Quitte la scene d'intimidation (Leave the scene of the bullying); Ne reponds pas, ni verbalement ni par courriel (Do not answer, either verbally or by email).

Why do bullies do it? What helps the victims? Get pupils to do some reflective writing on this now they have the vocabulary. Can bullies be forgiven? Pupils could research la giustizia riparativa (restorative justice) in schools and give their views on whether it might work in their own school.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. Read more of her articles at


Explore the issue of bullying using Carlav's comprehension activity on a French online comic.


Let pupils discover how to speak about Jugendprobleme (youth problems) in German with a translation exercise from chatterbox81.


Try this blog on bullying, with useful vocabulary in Spanish.


Practise French vocabulary using this anti-bullying policy from Canada. bit.lyBullyPolicyFrench

Visit, an excellent German portal on bullying in all its forms, including cyber-bullying.

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